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Md. Department of the Environment files suit against owner

December 26, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

gregs@herald-mail.com

The Maryland Department of the Environment filed a $20,000 lawsuit this week in Washington County Circuit Court against the owner of 16 downtown apartments, claiming he hasn't taken steps to reduce health risks from lead paint inside the homes.

The owner, Rick L. Hull of Simi Valley, Calif., said Thursday only one of his occupied apartments has a problem with lead paint. He said he's doing everything he can to comply with the state, but that he's going broke in the process.

Hull, who was born in Hagerstown, agreed last year he either would make sure the problem apartments were vacant by Dec. 31, 2002, or he would bring them into compliance with state lead laws, according to court documents.

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Hull since has sold a property at 234 S. Potomac St. The 16 apartments he still owns are located at 546-548 Salem Ave. and 316 Summit Ave.

Only one of nine apartments at 316 Summit Ave. is occupied, according to the lawsuit. Three of seven apartments at 546-548 Salem Ave. are occupied.

Hull said the person who lives in the Summit Avenue apartment takes care of the building and isn't a tenant, and only one occupied apartment at 546-548 Salem Ave. has a lead paint problem.

The two tenants in that apartment are both adults, and he allows them to stay there so he can pay the mortgage on the property, Hull said.

He said he has repainted the 546-548 Salem Ave. property, put in vinyl under the roof and made other repairs. He said he's doing as much work as he can afford.

"I've been trying to do everything I can short of kicking (them) out," Hull said.

Hull said he is $70,000 in debt and was unable to get grant assistance to fix the properties, because of his bad credit. He said he heard about the grant through the Maryland Department of the Environment.

In the lawsuit, the state is seeking a judgment against Hull of $20,000, and they also are asking the court to enforce an agreement that he bring his properties into compliance with state laws.

According to the lawsuit, Hull's apartments were built before 1950 and therefore are subject to lead risk-reduction regulations. Hull's apartments either must pass a state test for lead-contaminated dust or receive certain lead hazard-reducing treatments, such as removing or repainting chipping or peeling lead-based paint.

Hull said he didn't know of the lead paint problems when he bought the Salem Avenue property and that if he had known, he would not have made the purchase.

"I'm thinking about just walking away from everything," Hull said. "I don't think I ever want to hear of the state of Maryland again."

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